Ankara (February 16, 2018): United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, seeking to ease tensions between the NATO allies that reached new heights over Ankara´s ongoing operation inside Syria.
A prime task of President Donald Trump´s top diplomat will be to allay Turkish anger over US policy in Syria, a dispute which has ignited the biggest crisis in bilateral ties since the 2003 Iraq war.The former chief of energy giant Exxon Mobil, who is on a multi-leg tour of the Middle East, met Erdogan at his presidential palace after landing in Ankara from Beirut.
Tillerson will meet Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu today morning. Turkey´s operation against the People´s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia in the Afrin region of Syria has added a potentially insurmountable new problem to an increasingly rough bilateral relationship.
Analysts said the level of tension was similar to 2003 when Turkey refused to let US troops operate from its territory for the Iraq war, or even the aftermath of Ankara´s invasion of Cyprus in 1974.Turkey´s operation against the YPG, which Ankara blacklists as a terror group, has seen Turkish troops fighting a militia which is closely allied with the US in the battle against Daesh.
Speaking in Beirut before his meeting with Erdogan, Tillerson denied Washington ever gave heavy weaponry to the YPG and thus could not gather up such arms, as desired by Ankara. “We have never given heavy arms to the YPG so there is none to take back,” Tillerson said.
Erdogan earlier this month accused Washington of sending in thousands of truckloads and planeloads of weapons to the YPG in Syria, asking why the US still had a presence there if the extremists had been defeated.
And Erdogan has further upped the ante by warning US troops to leave Manbij, a YPG-held town east of Afrin, raising fears of a clash between the allies.
He also warned that the US risked being dealt an “Ottoman slap” in Syria — a backhand thwack which, according to legend, could kill an opponent at a stroke.